The bean barons at Second Street Café sling brewed-to-order fair-trade coffee, specialized sippables, and breakfast and lunch fare that employs fresh organic produce. Shake off nightmares of showing up fully clothed at a nudist beach with the Jump Start ($2.85–$3.25), which drops a double shot of espresso in a cup of classic joe from the nearby Verve's Coffee Roasters. A selection of bagels ($1.65–$2.95), breakfast sandwiches ($3.95–$4.95), and breakfast burritos ($3.95–$4.25) ensure a mollified morning, while iced americanos ($2.50) and lattes ($3.50) cool off humid highway hoppers.
Hankerings for classic, all-American barbecue can easily be satisfied at Carmona's BBQ Deli, an eatery that operates out of a Watsonville deli and a mobile trailer powered by barbecue sauce rather than gasoline. Juicy burgers, all-beef hot dogs, and buffalo wings represent just three of many specialties that can be washed back with a cold beer or a glass of wine. But the menu doesn’t stop there. Cooks also create fusion barbecue with Asian, Italian, and Latin flavors. They crown pulled-pork sandwiches with guava-chipotle barbecue sauce, daub ribs with housemade hoisin sauce, and marinate chicken in coconut milk and lemongrass. At catered events, they can feed as many as 1,000 people with options such as korean short ribs, pots of award-winning clam chowder, and whole pigs, lambs, and goats roasted on a rotisserie spit.
Since 1994, Wingstop's franchise locations—more than 600 currently operating or in the works—have cooked up and served more than 2 billion wings, and amassed a considerable following. Whether regular or boneless, these modern-day game-day staples come in one of the shop's 10 signature flavors: Louisiana rub and hickory-smoked barbecue have a classic spicy kick, whereas tanginess prevails in the lemon pepper, Hawaiian, and teriyaki.
Because the wings are always made to order, they derive their heat from their seasonings and their recent stay inside the fryer, rather than from heat lamps or tiny, individual Snuggies. The same amount of care goes into the Wingstop's housemade sides, which range from fries that are cut daily at each shop to the bourbon baked beans. Even the honey mustard, blue cheese, and ranch dipping sauces are mixed onsite.
Though Straw Hat's menu is predominantly circular cuisine, diners can stave off the pizzapocalypse with a curtain-raiser of a dozen Mojave hot wings ($7.99) and equally savory views of 12 all-you-can-watch plasma TVs. Next, flip a dollar bill to decide whether to have Straw Hat's original California crust or a thicker, pan-ier DaPan pizza foundation and then build your own piescraper from the medium 12-inch ground up with any of 24 toppings and four sauces (one-topping or cheese, $12.99; each additional topping, $1.25). Experimental eaters can create a heretofore unheard of combo such as a barbecue bacon and pineapple pizza. For more ready-made and time-tested flavors, grab one of Straw Hat’s specialty Master Pizzas, such as the king-size 18-inch favorite, The Works (salami, ham, sausage, pepperoni, linguica, ground beef, mushrooms, olives, and bell peppers, $26.99).
Amid tidy rows of organic products, a well-stocked deli counter, and outdoor seating, Seascape Foods fills shopping carts with locally grown fare and handmade goodies. A rotating deli menu ushers in daily bites, which may include a breakfast burrito packed with scrambled eggs, beans, fresh salsa, potatoes, and cheese ($4.75) or a salad of spring mixed greens starring cherry tomatoes, roasted walnuts, dried cranberries, and goat cheese on a stage of verdant lettuce ($4.95–$7.95). The baked-tofu panini surrounds a pesto-covered soy slab with fresh and roasted veggies ($6.95). Customers can peruse a cornucopia of products, including locally farmed eggs and certified humane Angus beef. Artisan cheeses melt onto freshly baked breads delivered daily, and Polar Bear ice cream sustainably harvests frozen treats from Alaska's natural gelato fields. When finished, pound nutrient-rich blends of made-to-order juices, including the Greenergizer ($3.95), which hops up senses on the kinetic surge of kale, lemons, apples, and ginger.
Chowhound Cooking Classes is a one-woman culinary school run out of the home of Denise Ward, a worldly chef who lived throughout Europe and Asia, learning the regional dishes and blending them with her own Greek culinary roots. In the 3.5-hour Small Plates Santa Cruz class, students prepare a series of plates combining seasonal ingredients from local Monterey Bay purveyors. Amid the sears and jeers, Denise provides chefs with samples of Santa Cruz Mountains, and also permits them to enjoy a BYO bottle imported from their own homes or gas-station marts. Past hands-on classes have prepped plates including roasted halibut with walnut crust and tomato-pepper compote, flourless chocolate cake, and other tasty edibles that can be enjoyed as appetizers or portioned as main courses.